Like a lot of folks, spring is my favorite time of the year. And one big reason for that is the chance to get my camera out and do some flower and macro photography.
With that in mind, it seems like a good time to talk about tips for great flower photography. We've rounded up some of the best! So below you'll find tips and videos to help you take better flower photos, gathered from some of the best photography blogs around.
But before we get into that, let's first talk about equipment.
We all like to say that having more and better camera gear doesn't make for better photography. Except that sometimes it does. And that's especially true when it comes to flower photography. Realistically, having certain gear can help you capture better flower photos or at least make taking them a lot easier. And, in fact, there are some flower images that you simply can't get without a bit of specialized equipment.
With that said, here's the lowdown on gear that can be useful when photographing flowers.
When most people think about flower photography, they usually think macro lenses. But some of my best flower images have been taken with one of my favorite lens, a Tamron AF 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD IF Macro Lens.
I typically use this lens at the longer end of the zoom range when shooting flowers. This longer focal length gives me a narrow angle of view, reducing the amount of background in the image and helping to isolate my subject. And by opening the lens to its widest aperture (f/2.8), I can get that background to be soft and blurry.
You'll notice that this lens has "Marco" in its name. But this isn't a true macro lens (which gives a magnification factor of 1:1 at the closest focus setting). In this case, the Macro designation means that the lens can focus at a relatively short distance. That means that I can get closer to my subject while still being able to focus my lens.
Although I really enjoy photographing flowers with my telephoto zoom, the minimum focusing distance on these types of lenses can sometimes get in the way. There are times when I want to get closer and still be able to focus my lens.
That's when a macro lens comes in handy. A true macro lens is a prime lens (which means that it has a single, fixed focal length) that allows you to focus at a very close distance and magnifies your subject at a 1:1 ratio. So the image captured on your camera's sensor is the same size as the object you are photographing.
I love both of these lenses but I tend to use the 180mm more often when I'm doing close-up photography because I like the look of the longer focal length, especially when I'm shooting individual flowers.
By the way, if you're on the fence about purchasing a macro lens, keep in mind that they're about more than close-up photography. A macro lens can be used just like a normal lens. In fact, my 90mm macro makes for great portrait shots.
If you are interested in close-up photography, but you don't want to purchase a macro lens, extension tubes might be the answer.
Extension tubes are hollow tubes that are attached between the camera body and the lens. This placement increases the distance between the sensor and the lens, allowing the lens to focus more closely and, therefore, increasing its magnification level. The greater the added distance, the bigger the increase in magnification.
Extension tubes come in various thicknesses and are usually sold in sets of three. You can use them singly or you can stack them to increase the effect.
So extension tubes are an affordable way to get started in macro photography. I have a set of Kenko Auto Extension Tubes and I use them all the time to reduce the minimum focusing distance on my zoom lenses. And I even sometimes use them on my 180mm macro when I want to get even closer than the lens will allow. They're handy to have on hand and small and lightweight enough to always have in my bag.
When looking to buy a set of extension tubes, be sure to get a set that has the electrical contacts needed to communicate with your camera's microprocessor. Without those contacts, you won't be able to use autofocus or control the aperture setting.
Also, just like lenses, extension tubes have different mounts for different camera brands. Be sure to purchase one that works with your particular model.
I never shoot macro photos without having my camera mounted on a sturdy tripod.
When you're shooting small subjects magnified and close up, any camera movement is magnified too. On top of that, when you're shooting close up, you're working with a really shallow depth of field, so any movement could (and probably will) move your composition off your plane of focus and that means blurry images.
So a good tripod is essential to good close-up photography.
I have the Gitzo GT2541EX Series 2 Carbon tripod because I love that it's so flexible. The legs of this tripod can be set at any angle and the center column can be rotated. You can get it into almost any configuration (including close to the ground) and I love that!
I have this tripod paired with the Gitzo GH2750QR Off Center Ball Head. Like the tripod, the head is something of a contortion artist, allowing me to lock down my camera in just about any position.
But as much as I love my Gitzos, there's no denying the combo is pricey. So another option that will serve you well is the Manfrotto 294 Aluminum Tripod Kit. This is a tripod and head combined, so you get it all at once. I don't own this kit, but I've heard good things about it. It's quick to set up and is sturdy and steady. And this tripod features adjustable leg angles, which allow for shooting close to the ground, exactly where you want to be when capturing close-ups.
A remote release allows you to be hands-off when releasing the camera's shutter, avoiding any hand-induced camera shake at the crucial moment with the image is captured. For me, a remote control has the added benefit of giving my back some much needed relief from the constant bending often required when shooting low to the ground.
There are a lot of remote camera releases on the market. Some are sophisticated and wireless, and some are more basic. You can go either way. Just be sure to do some research first to make sure that it's compatible works with your camera.
I use the FotoTech Wired Remote Shutter Release Control. It's very basic and affordable and does what I need.
When you're photographing outside, you don't have a lot of control over the weather and there are going to be times when the natural lighting isn't working for your subject. Diffusers and reflectors can help with this by allowing you to manage and modify the light.
Diffusers are made of thin, translucent material and can be used to block some of the light hitting your subject when it's too bright. The diffuser acts to disperse the light, which makes the illumination even, balanced and more pleasing. By placing a diffuser between the sun and your subject, you can instantly soften the lighting, lessening the harshness of the sunlight and reducing the contrast and shadows in your image.
Reflectors are flexible pieces of reflective material that can be used to redirect, or bounce, light from the surrounding area onto your flower. Reflectors are useful for lighting your flower when it's in a place that's not directly lit by sunlight or for adding light to fill in areas of a flower that's unevenly lit by the natural lighting, reducing the shadows and contrast in those areas.
Reflectors come in different colors: white, silver, and a few shades of gold. I use gold the most often because I like the warmth that it adds to light.
Both diffusers and reflectors comes as round, collapsible forms that can be twisted down to a much smaller size (about half the size in diameter of the unfolded reflector) for storage and transport.
An especially handy option is the 5-in-1 reflector. These units have the different colored reflective surfaces all packaged together as reversible sheets sandwiched around a diffuser disc in the middle. So it's an all-in-one package.
I have one of these, the 42" Multidisc 5-in-1 by PhotoFlex and I like it a lot. I keep in the trunk of my car, so that's handy when I'm out and about.
But the reflectors I probably use most often for macro photography are smaller 12" ones that fold down enough to fit in my bag. The small size of these reflectors can limit their usefulness, but I find they work well on many of my flower photos and they're just so handy to have tucked in my bag all the time. I have a couple of these, a silver/gold one and a soft sun/white one, both by Interfit.
A plamp (or plant clamp) is an articulating, flexible wire-like arm with two clamps at either end. It's a useful gadget, especially in close-up and macro photography when it seems like the one thing you can quickly run short on is hands.
The plamp can be used to steady and position plants and flowers. Clamp one end on your tripod and the other end on the stem of your flower (using a little foam or other cushioning to avoid harming the flower) and shoot away. The plamp will help to reduce any movement caused by the wind and also allows you to hold the flower at a particular angle or position to suit your composition.
The plamp can be used to hold things other than flowers. It can hold your diffuser or reflector or it can be used to keep unwanted background objects out of your picture.
So a plamp is really handy for macro photography. Just be sure—and this is really important—that you're careful to use it in such a way that it doesn't hurt your subjects. Because, as photographers, we should always strive to do no harm…
When you're photographing subjects close to the ground, you usually have to get down on your knees to get the shot. And that can mean kneeling on hard surfaces, rocky surfaces, wet surfaces, muddy surfaces….etc. Without padding, that can be tough on both your knees and on your pants.
I like the kneepads made for gardeners because I find them less bulky and more comfortable than those made for sports. And you'll find the kneeling cushions in that same department.
I have a set of the Fiskars Ultra Light Knee Pads that I use a lot. I also have a kneeling pad by Backyard Garden Pros that I use frequently because I can pull it out quickly when I'm shooting around the house.
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Over the past ten posts, we talked a lot about the components of exposure and how important they are in controlling the look and feel of your images.
Below is a list of links to those posts, just in case you’ve missed any: